As Nagorno-Karabakh battle goes on, Armenia wants Washington to explain if it supplied Turkey with F-16s to aid Azerbaijan

5 Oct, 2020

Armenia’s prime minister wants clarification from the US about the sale of F-16s to Turkey, claiming the advanced jets are bombing civilians amid the ‘existential’ battle with Azerbaijan over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey and Azerbaijan strongly denied the claims, but the rebuttals have not prevented Armenia from raising the issue of Ankara’s perceived involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh fighting with its major NATO ally, the United States.

Last Thursday, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held a telephone conversation with US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, the New York Times reported on Monday. Washington “needs to explain whether it gave those F-16s [to Turkey] to bomb peaceful villages and peaceful populations,” Pashinyan told the Times.

According to the Armenian leader, O’Brien “heard and acknowledged” his grievances and promised to arrange a separate phone call with President Donald Trump. That conversation did not take place, however, as Trump announced he had tested positive for Covid-19 shortly afterward.

Yerevan has long insisted that Turkey’s backing of Armenia’s arch-foe Azerbaijan is not restricted to diplomatic and propaganda support. In recent days, Armenian officials have repeatedly accused Ankara of funneling Syrian mercenaries into Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as deploying US-built F-16 fighter jets to aid Azerbaijani troops on the ground.

The Turkish Air Force, one of the largest within NATO, is in possession of an estimated 245 F-16C/D aircraft assembled locally by Turkish Aerospace Industries.

Hostilities broke out again between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh on September 27, with both sides blaming each other for firing the first shots. The disputed enclave, populated by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognised as an illegally-occupied territory of Azerbaijan, has seen many military flare-ups over three decades. But the current one poses an “existential threat” because of the Turkish factor, Pashinyan told the Times.

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Armenia has always been wary of Turkey, not least because of the bitter 20th century legacy of the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire – which killed an estimated 1.5 people – but also due to its long-standing military and political support for Azerbaijan.

According to officials in Yerevan, Turkish officers are commanding Azerbaijani Air Force operations in Nagorno-Karabakh. Last week, Armenia’s military claimed that a Turkish F-16 shot down their Su-25 attack aircraft, leading to the death of a pilot.

A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied Yerevan’s claim, and Ankara’s Defense Ministry said Azerbaijan’s military is able to fight a war on its own. Baku, in turn, also dismissed Armenian assertions as “lies and provocation,” noting that its air force does not have F-16s in its inventory.

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